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I never got to be a slut when I was young—not by true definite of the word. I had plenty of opportunities, of course, but never did I ascend to that level of promiscuity.
I say ascend because at fourteen years old, sluttiness was a coveted sexual and social status. To be a slut didn’t just refer to the amount of boys a girl messed around with. It alluded to a kind of sexual maturity that may or may not have existed by flirtation, innuendo, and the effortless way you made the boys fall in line.
Sluttiness was an expression of one’s sexual experience, yes, but it was also—perhaps especially—an illusion bigged up by rumor and mannerism.
In high school, I watched as my friends and peers allowed themselves to explore their sexual identities, stringing boys along with their long, mascara’d lashes, showing their flat stomachs in frigid temperatures. The way they used their sexuality to get what they wanted, the way they unabashedly showed off their bodies—from cleavage that lifted and separated, to curves of burgeoning hips that made the boys suck their teeth—created both fascination and envy within me.
How my friends flaunted themselves and brazenly played with their erotic prowess was completely off limits to me.
I was raised in a Protestant household that, at first glance, wasn’t all that religious. My parents didn’t have crucifixes hanging up on the walls of our home, we didn’t go to church every Sunday; very rarely did we go to church as a family at all. There was a leniency and a fluidity to how we worshipped, but there were also very strict rules under which my sister and I were held accountable to.
We weren’t allowed to use language (saying “shut up” or calling each other “stupid” was included in this). We weren’t allowed to wear tight, revealing clothing. Every single bit of media we consumed was heavily monitored. And it was drilled in us to follow the ten commandments as a sacred promise, with “Honor thy father and mother” being first and foremost.
Purity was another essential tenet that I remember feeling the weight of in my young life, and while I don’t recall explicit conversations with my parents using the words “virginity”, I did get the sense that I was to always rise above the desires of the flesh, never giving in to sexual temptation.
Despite their strictness, I had deep, unwavering respect for my parents, and that deep respect—combined with the total fear of being a disappointment to them—kept me relatively obedient. They raised me to be a good girl, and I was a pretty sheltered kid because of it.
I was homeschooled on and off for most of my childhood, partly because my mother was passionate about giving me a good education herself, and partly because public school was, to both my parents, a treacherous place for an impressionable, curious young girl like me.
When I had brief stints in public school, I’d always come back with bad habits—talking back, giving attitude, being generally disrespectful. As soon as my parents would see a shift in my character, they’d rip me out of school and put me back into what they thought was best: working quietly on long division problems in my living room with my sister, a TV tray as my desk.
But as I began to develop into a young woman, the curiosity to be in the hub of school politics became undeniable. I wanted friends apart from my sister. I wanted to go to dances. I wanted to pack my lunch. My parents listened to my girlish pleas for friendship and belonging, and eventually (reluctantly) gave me my wish. I started going to what I considered to be “real school” when I was in the 8th grade.
Granted, it was a small charter school (our graduating class one year was only twenty) and our campus didn’t have lockers or a gymnasium, but they did have a basketball team and a yearbook and P.E. It was exactly the world I wanted to be a part of. I was thrilled.
Looking back, I understand why my parents fought so hard to keep me out of public school.
High school was a hotbed of teenaged rebellion, spurred by a wild, reckless search for individuality that often involved the loss of innocence.
And one of the easiest and most noticeable ways to be taken off the path of innocence was to open yourself up to sexuality.
Sex was everywhere in school—every joke an innuendo, every conversation an invitation to the perverse. I honestly hadn’t expected how blatant it would be; I was ill-equipped. A lot of the dirty jokes and inappropriate references went completely over my head, to the point that I felt my friends were speaking of a world I’d never been invited to.
I remember one incident where a pair of my guy-friends kept asking if I’d like for them to eat me out. And their laughter, which increased every time they found a new way to ask that question, made me laugh too. I went along with them, even agreed with them, but I didn’t get the joke. I thought they were asking me if I’d like for them to take me out to get fast food.
As much as I was clueless about sex, I wasn’t oblivious to its power or influence amongst my friends. I could sense that sex to them wasn’t about the love and marriage my parents preached about waiting for. Sex was used as a currency to further both self-exploration and sexual hierarchy amongst the school population. And I was often a quiet observer to the power dynamics that were wound tightly in that exchange.
I noticed that the girls who wore the tightest pants got the most attention from the popular boys. I noticed that the girls that made jokes about cumshots and mimed blow jobs had the cutest boyfriends. Essentially, what I noticed was that this overt display of perceived sexual worldliness was about and for the boys—their attention, their acceptance, their admiration.
There never seemed to be any pleasure in it for the girls—not bodily pleasure. I mean, it was implied that the girls enjoyed themselves, but mostly what was suggested was that the pleasure was in the game, and the reward was in the attention being given—perhaps even in the honor of being so-and-so’s girlfriend.
And I found myself wanting that.
Let me clarify: I didn’t necessarily want to mime blowjobs; I didn’t even know what a blowjob was. But I did want to belong.
More than that, I wanted to be seen. I wanted the uniqueness of my personality to be valued. And it seemed that becoming some kind of a sex symbol was the best gateway to that.
This meant wearing pushup bras that accentuated my budding breasts. This meant allowing my ass to be slapped by the popular boys as I walked to class. This meant pretending to know what fingering was and that I wanted it to be done to me by the guy I was trying to get with.
This meant presenting myself as slutty, as a girl who knew all about sex and was open to being used as a tool for his pleasure.
I should mention that being perceived as a slut had absolutely nothing to do with my personal sexuality, because no part of my sexuality—not my pleasure, not my enjoyment, not even my consent—was ever involved in my playing slut. While I did like the tiny consensual glimpses I had caught of the erotic—like the way I felt my body respond when making out with a boy—it felt so far removed from the idea of sex that my own arousal felt out of place.
It was all about his arousal, his gaze, his sexual needs. My sexual identity was only discussed if it were a method toward his enjoyment. And I saw nothing wrong with that.
I cannot say that I ever successfully became a notorious slut. But, I tried my damnedest. I tried to get perfectly into this coveted role by studying my friends and replicating what seemed successful for them. I got the same flavors of lipgloss as they did. I adopted their ditzy, passive, high-pitched laughs. I bought thong underwear that I hid deep in my sock drawer, only showing my younger sister. And that year, I signed all the boys’ yearbooks with “Love, Your #1 PornStar” with big loopy letters and a star to finish it off.
Which, of course, I didn’t know what a porn star was. I had never even watched porn. I just had a sense that that was what the boys were after.
When I used my body to suggest a fastness that wasn’t technically there, I got attention that seemed to highlight my worthiness—phone calls from boys, exuberant compliments, an invitation to be a senior’s prom date. I also got things that I wasn’t sure I wanted, like being groped underneath my desk in biology class, and out-of-nowhere rumors that hinted at how far I’d really gone.
My playing slut was working. It also came with a price.
The games I had to play to keep up with my friends’ sexual reputations, whether they were true or not, were dangerous. They created disturbing scenarios and opened up doors to power dynamics that I didn’t completely understand until I was much older.
Naomi Wolf says that in our culture, “girls are turned into women through what happens to them, and what they choose to do, sexually.” When I think back to those times where I was playing fast and loose, I wasn’t just playing at being a slut. I was playing at being a woman.
Promiscuity is how girls enter into the world of womanhood. Through sluttiness, we come of age and transition into adult female sexuality.
I risked my reputation and gave away my personal power so that I might grow up fast through looseness. I allowed my body to be a doormat to the threshold of male sexuality so I could get shortsighted glimpses of what it meant for me to be a woman. And all of this created a shaky foundation under which my sexual worth laid upon.
That was almost fifteen years ago. I am older now, wiser. I have a clearer grasp of my sexuality and a deeper respect for both my body and my pleasure. I am married to an amazing man who respects the erotic in me highly, and the relationship I have to the sanctity of my sexual identity is unyielding.
So why do I still desire to ascend to a certain level of promiscuity? Why do I still daydream about being a slut?
I’ll answer that question in the next post.